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Lost in New York City

Our son, who has mild/moderate autism, was in the 8th grade. The rite of passage from middle school to high school is the –drum roll, please—8th-grade trip. I knew the kids in special education sometimes got to go, so I was pleased when Luke’s teacher told me she thought he should go to Savannah with the others.

“That’s great!” I said. I’ve already talked to my husband Bruce about it, and he’s prepared to go.”

“That won’t be necessary,” she said.

“Oh.” I chewed my lip. “So you’re going? That’s great. Since you just had the baby, I didn’t think you’d want…”

She smiled. “I’m not going either. Luke’s ready. He’s going on his own.”

She must’ve seen my look of panic. “Don’t worry, Mom. Five special kids are going, and a special need teacher will be one of the chaperones.” She patted my arm. “He’ll be fine.”

So I sucked it up. After all, I’d always been a proponent of letting him do everything he possibly could. This was simply a higher level of independence. A much higher level. Mount Everest, you could even say.

Most of the ladies in my Bible study group have children graduating high school this year, so we’ve been doing a study called Give Them Wings. I told my ladies group about the adventure in store, putting on a brave face and expecting to hear assurances that worry was unnecessary. The dubious looks on their faces made me put aside pretenses and reveal my true feelings.

“I know we’re supposed to give them wings,” I whimpered. “But I want to tie an anchor around his ankles!”

That night I had a nightmare. The chaperone called me in tears. They’d re-routed at the last minute, and gone to New York City, where they promptly lost Luke. They wanted us to come to help look for him. My husband, daughter and I flew to New York, where we searched dark, foggy city streets for our boy. I woke in a sweat. I reminded myself that it was a sin to worry. Several weeks later I waved goodbye. Luke left without a single backward look, jumping up and down with excitement.

I was a “good” mom. I didn’t call and ask how he was doing. I prayed a lot instead.

Three days later, he returned, triumphant. His first words upon getting off the bus were, “I want to go on the 8th-grade trip again next year!”

The philosopher Michel de Montaigne once said: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

It’s normal for parents to want anchors for their beloved children, who are, after all, just downy chicks, not ready for the evils of this world. When one throws in a complication like autism, it’s often hard to see the line between keeping them safe and letting them be all they are capable of. I’m praying for wisdom as I try to give up anchors and invest in wings.

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